It was only less than a month ago that the Malaysia national team gathered to compete in the 2022 World Cup qualifier and the squad has already been reassembled for another round of international friendly and important qualification match. The match against Sri Lanka is the starter before the main course that is Vietnam on October 10.
This time around Malaysia are only involved in one Group G match as they are the team sitting out of the matches scheduled to be played on October 15. Hong Kong was initially planned to be the opponent for that particular date but circumstances engulfing the island meant that the match could not proceed as planned.
But there are bigger things for Cheng Hoe to worry about than the lack of matches as only 20 out of 25 players who reported for training are in a good physical condition. An ankle injury to star midfielder Nor Azam Azih is the most worrying one for the head coach as he also contemplates more minor injuries to Danial Amier, J. Partiban, Shahrul Saad and Halim Saari.
"25 players have reported for training today (Monday) but a few players are injured from their matches in the Malaysia Cup. Azam have rested a few matches, Danial Amier is still injured. Latest are Partiban, Shahrul and Halim. I hope in the next few days they can recover.
"We are hopeful for Azam to still be part of the team as he played well in the qualifying campaign thus far. Of course we await the update from our medical team. So far we have called Azizan Nordin who was with us previously but haven't quite got a chance yet. That's why he's called up in case we can't take Azam.
"We know Vietnam are having a good preparation because they have been training for one week now. We want to get a positive result from the match this time. The warm-up match against Sri Lanka will be important for us to keep our momentum going and to get the players in the right level for the Vietnam match," said Cheng Hoe before Monday's training session.
If the last round of matches against Jordan, Indonesia and United Arab Emirates were any indication, Cheng Hoe considers Nor Azam to be the vital cog in his midfield. The Pahang player started in all three of those matches and was particularly instrumental in the positive attacking performance Malaysia showed in those matches.
Kedah's Ifwat Akmal was initially on the call-up list but the keeper had to turn down the opportunity because of his own injury with Selangor's Khairulazhan Khalid taking his place in the squad as a late replacement. Ironically Khairulazhan's team knocked out Hafizul Hakim's Perak in the Malaysia Cup quarterfinal and they compete to be the number two behind captain, Farizal Marlias.
The friendly against Sri Lanka on October 5 at Bukit Jalil National Stadium will give Cheng Hoe an opportunity to assess several things including a possible revival of the Shahrul-Aidil (Zafuan) partnership in defence as well a possible replacement candidates for Nor Azam in central midfield.
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